U.S. may see 'Weinstein effect' boosting harassment claims


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 U.S. may see 'Weinstein effect' boosting harassment claims

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. government may see a "Harvey Weinstein effect," or an increase in the number of U.S. women across all industries filing formal complaints about workplace sexual harassment.

    Inquires to law firms have been rising since harassment and assault allegations about Hollywood film executive Harvey Weinstein were first reported in early October, according to three Washington, D.C., attorneys who specialize in employment law and sexual harassment.

    A spike in interest in pursuing harassment charges comes after a decade in which the number of allegations had been on steady decline. The number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016 was 6,758, 15% lower than in 2010. That small total that suggests that cases are vastly underreported, according to the EEOC, which takes in approximately 90,000 complaints a year for all workforce violations.

    The number might start to rise.

    "Theres not a lawyer doing the kind of work we do whose phone is not ringing off the hook," said Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks. "Women have gotten to a place where its much safer to stand up to it and employers are more concerned about damage to brand," Katz said.

    "Theres the 'Weinstein effect' now," said her law partner Lisa Banks. "The more women — and some men — are speaking up, regular employees in industries across the board have felt emboldened to come forward," she said.

    Harvey Weinstein

    The EEOC says it's too soon to compare the number of complaints filed since early October to previous months. "I dont think were going to know that for another six months," said Victoria Lipnic, acting chair of the EEOC. Many of the victims are younger people who "dont think to themselves 'Im going to avail myself of this government agency that enforces the law,'" she said.

    A 2016 EEOC report found 70% of individuals who experienced harassment never talked with a supervisor or union representative. 

    Yet there's anecdotal evidence of an increasing interest in the topic, with the average number of visits to the EEOC sexual harassment website doubling after the Weinstein story broke in early October, up to an average of 2,156 per day by the end of the month. The agency has also received hundreds of inquiries about a new workplace training program that covers harassment.

    Over the past month, there's been a five-fold increase in the number of calls coming into the National Women's Law Center, which is disseminating information about the legal definition of harassment and how to bring an EEOC charge, said Emily Martin, a NWLC vice president who is connecting callers with attorneys who do free legal consultations.

    The lawyers interviewed by USA TODAY say the roots of backlash are much deeper than the Weinstein story. 

    The #MeToo campaign that's encouraging women from all walks of life to share their stories of harassment, abuse and rape on social media had been going on for years before movie stars including Alyssa Milano began using the Twitter hashtag in response to the revelations about Weinstein.

    The EEOC had also been emphasizing the issue through a task force formed in 2016. The 2016 presidential campaign also brought new attention to sexual assault with the release of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump talking about how he grabs women's genitals.

    Then along came Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who became the latest in a string of high-profile men, including Fox News's Roger Ailes, to vault the issue of workplace harassment to the forefront of national discourse.

    "This is really an extraordinary teaching moment for our nation," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "We are in an environment where the people coming forward, rather than being attacked or villainized, what we are seeing is that their stories are being accorded gravity" she said.

    "Women have been reluctant to report even rapes because theyve seen how women have been really degraded by their rapists or harassers," said Linda Correia, an employment partner at Correia & Puth in Washington. "The victim- blaming is over."

    By: USA TODAY

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